April 8th, 2000
I wanted to be in a city closer to nature, is what Anais Nin wrote in her diary in explanation of her move to Los Angeles after World War Two.
Los Angeles has a reputation for crowded freeways, Hollywood phonies, toxic air and hundreds of miles of seemingly undifferentiated suburban sprawl. This is not undeserved. However, my personal experience of Los Angeles centers on its other, much more appealing aspects.
The look of the neighborhood of my birth is of rounded forms, in the flowering shrubs and trees, Spanish architecture, pools, lawns, wide shady streets. Even Watts, now known as South Central, the famous ‘hood where violence often erupts, has this look. Ferral parrots–escaped pets–eat the tiny dates from the decorative royal date palms. Squirrels, racoons and opossum roam even downtown neighborhoods. The California chapparrel–the biome covering the mountains of the upper Sonoran desert of which LA is a part–is fragrant with herbs year ’round and brilliant with wildflowers in spring. You can still commune with nature on a day hike in the Santa Monica mountains or along the wide, golden coastal beaches.
Los Angeles is a place for doers. The artists who choose to perch here in the smog and mayhem move with purpose. They participate in big projects to be seen by huge audiences, both locally and internationally. While the acknowledged center of highbrow culture in the United States is New York City and the low brow center is Las Vegas, America’s middle brow cultural center is Los Angeles. Network television, major recording labels, commericial movies–LA knows its audience, or “market”, as it is called locally.
That is not to say that LA does not have a bohemian tradition as well. Health food and yoga first caught on here in the’twenties. My grandmother, ever the Lady of Fashion, followed the example of the movie stars of her time. She was sharp as a tack when she passed on at ninety-six. LA was where my mother studied modern dance with Lester Horton in the ‘thirties, where West Coast jazz filled my ears in the ‘fifties. LA is still the home of Pacifica Radio Station KPFK, the voice of the left in Southern California for several generations now. The very first Renaissance Pleasure Faire was a fundraiser for KPFK, and I was there (at age fourteen, playing a guitar shaped like a lute). At the Faire I met Art Kunkin, publisher of the LA Free Press, who gave me my first paying job, doing graphic layout, in 1966.